Assembly Panel Moves Democratic-Sponsored Bill to Require Health Coverage for Adolescent Depression Screenings

Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting more than 300 million people. Children and adults with major depressive disorder (MDD) have been found to be at greater risk for recurrent depression in adulthood, along with other mental disorders and suicidal ideation.

A bill (A-1833), sponsored by Assembly Democrats Pamela Lampitt, Angelica Jimenez, Jamel Holley and Valerie Vainieri Huttle, requiring health insurers to cover screenings for major depressive disorder in adolescents so long as such screenings continue to receive an “A” or “B” rating from the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force cleared an Assembly panel Thursday. Treatment of MDD detected through screenings can alleviate symptoms of depression and improve a person’s quality of life.

“To achieve better outcomes in adulthood, it is critical that we identify mental health disorders early. Depression screening is an easy way to catch mental health issues at an early stage and establish a treatment plan that will help manage symptoms,” said Lampitt (D-Camden, Burlington). “We must treat mental health care in the same fashion that we do for physical health and place a strong focus on preventative care. Mental health disorders are treatable but it is important that we identify the problem before a person is in crisis. Given the prevalence of mental health issues among today’s youth, we must take action to ensure adolescents struggling with their mental health are able to get the help they need.”

“While mood swings and behavioral changes are common during teen years, symptoms of depression that persist longer than two weeks may point to a mental health disorder,” said Jimenez (D-Bergen, Hudson). “It’s not always easy for parents, teachers and loved ones to distinguish between normal teen behavior and a deeper problem. Increasing access to adolescent depression screenings will help more youth identify and, hopefully, begin to address these issues.”

The legislation would apply to hospital, medical, and health service corporations; commercial individual, small employer, and larger group insurers; health maintenance organizations; and the State Health Benefits Program and the School Employees’ Health Benefits Program. Insurers would be required to provide benefits to the same extent as for any other condition under the contract, except the insurer would not be permitted to impose cost-sharing like copayments, deductibles or coinsurance.

The bill would not apply to those insurers who contractually reserved the right to change the premium, such as Medicaid.

“When left untreated, depression can lead to extreme consequences like suicide,” said Holley (D-Union). “With rates of teen suicide on the rise, it’s critical that we explore as many preventative avenues as possible. One screening and subsequent treatment for depression may save a person’s life.”

“Mental health issues do not discriminate. Any person may be affected, from young teenagers to senior citizens,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “No one should have to worry about whether their insurance company will cover a depression screening, especially not adolescents. Under this bill, we will eliminate that fear and help youth prioritize and better care for their mental health.”

The measure would take effect 180 days after enactment and would apply to policies or contracts issued or renewed on or after the effective date. It passed the Assembly Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee on Thursday, and now goes to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.